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Comparison between the Masque of the Red Death and the Beggar Woman of Locarno

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The stories The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe and The Beggar Woman of Locarno by Heinrich von Kleist are excellent samples of horror stories. Taking into consideration their plots and the manner of narration it might be suggested that each of the stories is directed to keep a reader frightened. That is why it may be useful to analyze how the terror is reflected in the stories. The aim of this essay is to compare the literary production of the horror in The Masque of the Red Death and The Beggar Woman of Locarno in such aspects as place, the ways of perception of terror, and symbolic structures.

The protagonist of The Masque of the Red Death, Prince Prospero, isolates himself and some of his courtiers in a castellated abbey hiding from the Red Death. The main action of the story takes place in a suite that has seven rooms; each room has a different color theme. Prospero’s shelter and the external world turn out to be a dichotomy as Poe stresses on a boundary between them: “All these and security were within. Without was the ‘Red Death’ ” (Poe 1). This antithesis demonstrates them as Cosmos and Chaos relatively. The Prospero’s abbey is cosmic as its interior is distinctly well-ordered. Poe gives a very detailed description of the rooms and of each event that takes place inside (Poe 1-3). All abbey’s inhabitants completely rely on the imaginary boundary from chaotic dimension of the Red Death, and spend their time in aesthetical enjoyment until it is intruded and destroyed by the Red Death itself.

In Kleist’s story, Marquis’ castle might be called an isolated place due to common location of a castle in general, but some interactions with the world outside, such as its disposition, take place. Nevertheless, this place is also destroyed, with a noticeable difference, though. It is the Marquis, the horror victim, who performs it. “Marquis, overcome with horror and tired of life, took a candle and set fire to the wooden paneling on all sides” (Kleist 2). Both stories have in common the inevitable destruction of the place of its action. However, Poe demonstrates that the horror would interfere and decay it anyway, despite the fact the place is locked and hidden. On the contrary, Kleist’s story demonstrates that the subject of demolition is not horror but its perceiver.

Among the most common ways of perception and impression, such as seeing and hearing, Poe uses visual illustration to picture horror. According to the author, “Blood was its Avatar and its seal – the redness and the horror of blood” (Poe 1). While other colors functionalize only in description of other rooms and objects in the suite, red color accomplishes another task. Giving the image of The Masque of the Red Death the author focuses on red color and the objects of its representation such as “his vesture was dabbled in blood” (Poe 3) and “his brow reddened in rage” (Poe 4).

At the same time, the audible aspect is present in the story but its task is not to create horrific atmosphere. Prospero’s ‘sharp cry’ (Poe 4) is not what frightens but a consequence of horror produced. Poe’s terror is absolutely silent for the Red Death does not say a word throughout the story. To maintain it, “he had come like a thief in the night” (Poe 4). Conversely, in The Beggar Woman of Locarno the audible aspect dominates as the story is loaded with such expressions as “unspeakable agony,” “moaning and groaning,” “the mysterious noise” (Kleist 1), “somebody whom human eyes couldn’t see” (Kleist 2). These examples support the idea the accents are made mostly on what is heard. The visual is not developed.  It could be demonstrated at the end of the story by stating that the castle and all around it “was in flames;” however, no detailed description was given. Overall, The Masque of the Red Death is more concentrated on the seeing as the way to produce the terror, while Kleist’s story deals with the audible to create the atmosphere needed.

Symbolism and Imagery present in both stories. In The Masque of the Red Death the black room in the suite differs from the other rooms dramatically, for instance “there was no light of any kind,” “the panes here were scarlet – a deep blood color” (Poe 2). Practically, no one from the guests wishes to enter this room. “That there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all” (Poe 3).It could be considered as no one wishes to meet Death. Furthermore, Prospero finds his death exactly in the black room trying to catch the Masque. An enormous ebony clock with its “dull, heavy, monotonous clang” (Poe 2) could be the reminder of the Death’s arrival.

The story by Kleist is less semantically loaded. The beggar-woman’s ghost horrifying the castle is the only apparent death symbol. Still, it stands in another manner as it does not appear and decay the castle at once but reminds of itself recurrently every night.

To summarize, both of the stories demonstrate different literary techniques of horror production. Poe chooses an isolated place of its action and focuses on the visual for its creation and works on various symbols to represent death. On the other hand, H. von Kleist does not locate the place hidden from the outer world; he pays the most of attention to the audible and treats the symbol not in its instant impression but its frequency and duration.

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